Friday, October 31, 2008

Chipmunk costume photos

In keeping with the cute Halloween theme: Esme as chipmunk. Note: it took some convincing to keep that headpiece on. And the photos are a little blurry, because it's just not easy to take photos of a running toddler!

"Chiiiip! Chiiip!" says Esme.

Pretending to clean herself like a chipmunk.

"See how well I can move in this?"

"I can dance, too!"

Happy Halloween, says the chipmunk.  Me, too.

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Happy Halloween

It's a happy Halloween around here, costumes waiting at the ready for after school trick-or-treating, and cute little pumpkin, ghost, and mice decorations around the house. Nothing spooky, I've been advised by a sage seven-year-old. I agree. So cute is the theme.

In keeping with cute: I love the old style of cards, especially ones embellished with flocking or glass glitter. This vintage-style flocked card made me smile when I received it two years ago, so I keep it with our decorations to enjoy each year. I send it to you with wishes for a day of Halloween fun.

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The chipmunk costume how to, part 1

As promised, here is how I made the chipmunk costume. This is heavy on the details, so for those not interested in the nitty-gritty, just take a peek at the photos. Esme is pretty cute, if I do say so myself.

By the way, If you've stumbled onto this via a google search on how to make a chipmunk costume, I'd be happy to help if you have questions or need to see additional photos. Feel free to drop me an email.

How I made the chipmunk costume: I couldn't find a pattern for one, so I started with something close, a skunk. I used the McCall's pattern 8938 by Tom Arna.

First, the materials: I used four different types of faux fur, including fake fox, and three colors of fake rabbit, which I got from (While I was working with this stuff in the studio, I had to reassure our pet rabbit, Mr. H, that it was indeed not from a cousin of his.) For the ear details, I used some tan Ultrasuede. Unlike Ada's costume, this one has a conventional muslin lining for the hood, which makes it much softer to wear, and makes it less flimsy. The interior of the fur isn't scratchy, but not soft, either.

Next, the modifications to the pattern:
The stripes were the most obvious thing to change. Of course, I had to make it chipmunky, which meant piecing together very thin strips of fur and making a long piece to put onto the back. I used faux fox for the middle part of the stripe and the various faux rabbit colors for the edges. I decided to use the stripe as a cover for the zipper. I attached half of the stripe on one side of the zipper, and the other half attaches with velcro. I lined the stripe with muslin to makea better ground for the muslin and to reinforce the pieced stripe. Also, instead of making a separate stripe to sew to the headpiece when finished, I integrated it into the headpiece itself. Again, it's sturdier.
The tail attaches with two buttons attached to the end of the stripe. I omitted the foam the Arna design calls for, and the tail is much softer and more flexible.

I also added "wings" to the sides of the costume, to mimic the flaps that rodents seem to have under their arms. I drew a pattern for them based on how high she normally raises her arms to reach for something. The idea was that there would be slack when she was standing, and she wouldn't be constrained by them no matter what she did. To get the right effect, I figured out that I needed to sew the wings together at the outside edges, and then attach them with handstitching--one side to the belly, and the other side to the back. It's sort of like a pillowcase with one side of each opening attached to the body of the costume. I love the overall effect, and they are really cute when she moves, as she is showing in this blurry photo.

The belly and arms are modified from the Arna design as well, which calls for a single white patch to be sewn onto the belly. For a more realistic feel, I sewed the belly in sections of color, and then matched the wings and arms to it accordingly.

Finally, the ears: I used bits from all the furs together and then handstiched them together to get the idea of a more natural ear. It's rougher than I would like, but it works for a costume. Can you tell this was one of the last things I did to finish it?

A few cautions: While it is clean after being sewn, faux fur REALLY sheds while you are sewing it. I found myself coughing and wheezing while I cut it, and I had to get a dust mask to continue.

Faux fur is also tough on needles on the machine. I went through 5, even with the machine on half-speed and without needle basting.

The end result? It feels pretty chipmunky to me. And it is warm and snuggly enough for a New England Halloween. Esme wants to keep wearing it (the bottom part, at least) after she gets it on. And it's huggably cute. Success.

Part two is by request from the grandparents--just some cute shots of Esme as the chipmunk.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A doll's pumpkin costume

We are not, if you can believe it, really that into Halloween. But we do like to play dress up, and Ada’s baby was feeling left out.
So I made her a costume with some cheap synthetic velveteen and some lovely leaf-green velvet. It's the first outfit I've made for this baby, and it fits perfectly. I have a sneaking suspicion that Ada is going to want another outfit, and soon...

I confess. I love making this sort of thing, so there probably will be some other little outfit coming soon. Especially if I get to practice details, like lining (I used orange polka-dotted cotton), and edged puffy sleeves. My favorite detail on this has to be the little hat and stem. See how happy she is? I hope Ada is pleased with it, too.

Oh, and by the way, Ada's baby is not a doll--it's a baby.  I stand corrected.  Because who would be so crazy to sew a costume for a doll, anyway?

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One part Punky Brewster, nine parts Ada

Wearing her own style in the rain.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Interrupting the routine

Today I forced an interruption.  It's necessary to do so every once in awhile, and this day, being one of the last warm days for some time to come, seemed the perfect time to do it.   

I took a bike ride down to the beach.

At this point, if you have even read this far, you may be thinking, "Who the #$&>@ cares about that?"  

You're right.  Who cares?  Me.  And that's the whole point.  I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in that there are not too many things I don't do for just me.   It's a problem not limited to moms, either.   So much of our life is, as Wordsworth so sagely puts it, "getting and spending," that we don't spend too much time on the now.  And the now is really the only thing we truly have.   

To be clear, I'm not talking about that "me-time," a derogatory term used to denote selfishness, and usually leveled at women(those with and without children, I might add).  Instead, I'm talking about time that is simply spent without aim for future gain, without creating pleasure for someone else, without furthering the illusion that our time is endless.   If I had to classify it, I'd think of it as "now."

I squander my now all the time, and to be truthful, I actually don't mind all the daily things I do.  I live a life that's home-centered, and that means daily effort on mundane tasks.  From laundry to dishes to cooking to picking up stuff,  it's time consuming.  And if I feel chained to it, it's sometimes irritating, too.  

But when I'm present in these tasks, with attention, I notice how nice it is to be able to do these things and have the home, and be with the people in it, making my own days.  It's a real luxury.  And I realize my "tasks" aren't tasks at all.  They are just part of being.

The problem is that I often forget that.  I get lost in the repetition, and I need to force an interruption.   Despite the poets' exhortations, despite the advice of a dying friend, it is so difficult to be present and enjoy being here.   A forced interruption can recharge me and make it possible to regain my "now."  For awhile.

This morning I did it. I tugged myself away from the pull of folding towels, mending teddy bears, stacking dishes, and chopping vegetables to do something entirely for me, entirely in the present.

Today's now included feeling the warm air whistle past my ears, pedaling up hills until I was out of breath, walking on the beach at low tide, listening to the fog horn as the last of the morning mist burned off past the bridge, watching the variegated trees whip past my bike, and finding a ridged clamshell.
What is your now today? 

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Early Halloween

Some photos of the girls from the early Halloween party this weekend.  Despite all my planning and intent to finish early (?!), I finished Esme's chipmunk costume about an hour before the party.   Of course,  within a minute of zipping the costume, Esme took off the headpiece with the hand-pieced ears.  But overall, the costume still says chipmunk, and Esme really liked it.  I'll post more on Esme's costume soon, when I can get some good shots of her wearing the whole thing.  

Esme waiting for a turn on the "rollercoaster.":

Esme on the rollercoaster:

Here's a view of the stripe in the back.

And here is Giselle herself--the princess and the popcorn.

The girls had a great time dancing with their friend, M., and both costumes held up well to their jumping, shaking, and spinning around.   They were all smiles on the dancefloor!  Now they are getting  excited about dressing up again for trick-or-treating. 

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

A poem for an autumn Thursday

I heard the crack of geese calls breaking the air yesterday morning, and it made me think of this poem. Which doesn't do the poem justice, since it really isn't about the geese at all...

It is such a memorable poem, and it is one of my very favorite poems in the world, by one of my very favorite poets.   From time to time, I find myself repeating the lines of this poem as if it were a mantra.  Which it should be, come to think of it.  

If you don't know this one, take a look. If you do--enjoy, again.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — 
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

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My Name is Esme, and I am a Chipmunk

Note:  No animals were harmed in the creation of this costume.  It's all faux fur.

I've been away from the computer and hunched over the sewing machine again.   This time, it's Esme's Halloween costume I'm working on.  She's going to be a chipmunk.  To be specific, she's going to be Pip from the movie Enchanted.  The idea is that Pip and Giselle are friends, and they will be great companions at the local Halloween party.

Ever a sucker for a big and unreasonable project, I told Esme, "Why, of course you can be a chipmunk for Halloween.  I'll make you a costume."  What?!  What was I thinking?  Of course, this conversation took place in August, promises for fancy costumes come easily when Halloween seems an eternity away. 

If I were a sensible person, I might have suggested that she wear one of the costumes Ada wore, or I might have decided to just have her wear some brown sweats and makeup, pin a piece of furry fabric on her bum as a tail, and be done with it.  To those who have the sense to know the value of your own time and make quick costumes, I salute you!  I, unfortunately, am too far into this one to turn back..

And actually, it's coming together pretty well.  It's my first real effort with faux fur, and despite the overwhelming amounts of fuzz that comes off that stuff when you cut and sew (seriously--I needed to wear a facemask), it's working out.    A few more hours, and it will be ready to wear. Look for more photos of the completed projects tomorrow.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Giselle's dress, part 2

Giselle from Enchanted had such a beautiful dress, and here are some more elements we incorporated to make Ada's costume authentic:

Filmy waves of organza on the underskirt.

The organza I used has little vines and leaves embroidered into it--it's delicate and just begs for a little edging.  So I edged it.  I used white ribbon.  I love the way these frills move on the dress.  It's not exactly like Giselle's, but it's close.  She has a profusion of tulle waves on the underskirt.  I think these work just as well for our purposes.

An extra finish on the underskirt.

I like this ribbon finish on the hem seams on the underskirt.  I've got another idea to use this in something else for the girls--maybe a skirt or top for the spring.

I also added an extra slip-like underskirt with 5 yards of tulle gathered onto it.  It gives the skirt extra-extra volume.  Ada will wear a petticoat, too, so it should meet her "poofy" standards.

I am not quite finished with the whole costume--of course.  I have to make the butterfly and topstitch the sash.  And wow, do I need to trim the threads (you can see some of them in the photos).  Because I used the dupioni silk, it's going to be a long task--there are threads everywhere!

The last thing I'm considering is to possibly finish the skirt with glitterglue waves and embellishments in the same way Giselle's skirt was finished.  See the photo below for what hers looked like. 

What do you think?  Glitter embellishment?  No?  The glue works okay, but I'm not 100% sure it will stay nicely.  Then again, it's a costume!   Delurk and tell me what YOU think!  Thanks.

Next:  Ada in the costume, and a preview of Esme's costume.  

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Giselle's dress Part 1

Inspired by the movie Enchanted, I made the Giselle dress for Ada to wear on Halloween.   For the past few days I've been away from the blog, and swimming in a sea of tulle, dupioni silk, duchess satin, organza, ribbon, and lacy trims.  
This was my first attempt at an elaborate dress (or any dress, for that matter!), and I am pretty happy with how it turned out.  Okay, really--I'm so happy with it that I'm practically jumping up and down.  Here are some of the highlights:

I used this pattern from Simplicity--8953.  I modified it a bit by incorporating a flouncy slip with tulle, and puffy sleeves.  Oh, and a butterfly on the top of the bodice!

Ada's big requirements were the puffy sleeves, lots of poof in the skirt, and embellishments.  My requirements were that it fits, has nice details (including lining and clean seams), and is modest enough for a seven-year old.  

Here are the results, with some closeup shots to show what I'm talking about.

Here are the sleeves.  This was an entirely new thing for me to try, so I had my fingers crossed the whole time I put it together.  Because I wasn't certain of how to sew the lining with the sleeves, I made the sleeves separately and lined them on their own, sort of as you would a pillowcase.  I hand-stitched them to the finished armholes on the dress after I had lined the bodice.   I loved how these turned out--by happy accident, I got to include an extra ruffle as I sewed them to the bodice, and the finished edges look really nice together.  It's a detail I would repeat again.

The overskirts:
I used duchess satin on these (it seems to be what Giselle actually wore in the movie), and they have a lovely drape and sheen.  I edged them with ribbon, lace, and beaded rosette trims.  Look how they all come together on the edge of the skirt.

The collar:  Again, I used the beaded rosette trim for the collar trim, which accents the silk piping edge that's between the lining and the outer layer.   

The lining.  I don't know if there is a reason clothing doesn't have beautiful lining.  I chanced it and used a pretty white-on-white cotton print for the inside of the bodice.  I really like the way this came out!

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

More soon! Stay tuned!

I've been away from writing on the blog for a few days, but with good cause:  the dress for Ada's Giselle costume.  Yum!  I am hoping to finish it sometime in the next day, and then post lots of photos.  It's really something, if I do say so myself!!

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I've been dreaming of a....

Giselle would say "true love's kiss."  And I have that, lucky me!   

What I'm dreaming of lately is the movie Enchanted, and specifically, Giselle's dress.   If I can manage to gather all of this:

And sew it together here (with some help from our little friend peeperkitty),

Ada will have a Halloween fit for a princess.

I've been stitching this together in bits and pieces, and I am hoping to finish it this weekend. And then it's Esme's costume...just wait until you see what she wants to be!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I've been thinking a lot about poetry lately--have you noticed? Today is the birthday of E.E. Cummings, a poet whose best known for his use of lower case--but he is so much more.  Indulge me again...

Perhaps it's the in-your-face flouting of authority that makes falling in love with his poetry a rite of passage for college students (at least for English majors). E.E. Cummings often eschews convention--grammar, traditional poetical structure of meter and rhyme, topic--all are up for grabs. His poetry always feels fresh and earnest, immediate, as if he just scribbled it down on the nearest piece of paper in a fit of inspiration. As a college student, I loved how he claimed his right to write how he wanted, about things as taboo! as sex and death. I wanted to claim that, myself. He made it look easy.

Of course, what I didn't know then was that Cummings had an education rich in classical studies, and in Latin and Greek.  It was his understanding of these heavily-structured forms allowed him the freedom to use them as a foundation; indeed, many of his poems are actually sonnets and his internal rhyme schemes are amazing. His quirky syntax only works because he knew how syntax functions to create meaning.

One thing I love in particular about so many of his poems is the parenthetical phrasing, the series of asides and further definitions. I am, by nature, a parenthetical speaker/writer. I love how way leads to way, and I think explanations and definitions aren't necessary, but beautiful. Think of the lovely neatness of nested matryoshka dolls, or the tiny interlocking gears of a wristwatch whose face is elegantly plain. These internal intricacies move me. As do the hidden workings of a Cummings poem. Here's one now, number 44, from 73 poems....

Now i lay(with everywhere around)
me(the great dim deep sound
of rain;and of always and of nowhere)and
what a gently welcoming darkestness--

now i lay me down(in a most steep
more than music)feeling that sunlight is
(life and day are)only loaned:whereas
night is given(night and death and the rain

are given;and given is how beautifully snow)

now i lay me down to dream of(nothing
i or any somebody or you
can begin to begin to imagine)

something which nobody may keep.
now i lay me down to dream of Spring

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pumpkin patch

Sometimes it feels as though our town is a throwback to another time.  There are no franchises here, no stoplights, and the farm stand uses an honor system for accepting payment.

A simple pleasure to visit this pumpkin patch on a sunny afternoon.  Here are the girls weighing their options for the best pumpkins.  

Esme finally found her favorite, which is just her size.   

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Color and texture

This unexpected combination makes me think that purple, green, and blue are my new favorite colors.

Hydrangea, sedum (Autumn Joy), and rosemary. 

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Parting gift--autumn

Autumn has been teasing me for a few weeks now. One minute it's rainy and cold, thick with the kind of fog that chills you to the bone. The next minute, it's crisp and cool, the sun riotously crossing the sky. The leaves on the trees, too, seem undecided about what to wear each day. And so it is at the start of fall when you live in the northeast. I actually like the surprise of it--each day I get to dress for an entirely different season. Of course, this is bound to end soon...fall is truly around the next corner, with no more surprise summery days up her sleeve.

With that, I've had this poem on my mind lately. It's one I wrote years ago when I lived in Chicago, and these sorts of days were more common at the end of September...

Last Days

comes wafting in tonight
over the blue and yellow of
an Indian summer afternoon,
over the fumes of
the snaking rush hour.
And shadows creeping from under trees
and viaducts
swallow the last of September.

The sound of a lone cricket
tonight becomes an apparition 
of July.
Outside my eleven o'clock window
the static white noise 
of the rusting oak
pushes me into
dreams of you
over fields and seas.


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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

End-of-Season Garden Soup

The garden is closing itself down, I'm afraid. The sunflowers, once boasting heights of 12 feet, have toppled, or are listing, and victims to the crows. There are tomatoes, but many are only half-ripened, and the vines are starting to shrivel. And the squash are calling it quits. There will be no more growth on the butternut, or the acorn, or the spaghetti squash.
So we're harvesting. We found a few beautiful zucchinis, a bucketful of greenish-red tomatoes, fistfuls of fennel seeds, a few perfect banana peppers, and some bright green herbs.
The herbs are my favorite, I must admit, and so I was glad when we decided that the perfect dinner would be an end-of-season garden soup, heavy on the basil and cilantro.

Here is the recipe. If there were a taste for green, this soup would be it.

End-of-Season Garden soup:

1 cup fresh basil and cilantro
1 package fresh rice noodles
1 cup half-ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 cups carrots (baby carrots or carrot slices)
1 small zucchini, julienned
4 medium banana peppers, chopped into rounds
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 avocado, chopped into 1-inch dice

Chop the vegetables and the herbs. Divide herbs in half, setting one half aside for the finish.
Heat the broth, water, vinegar, sugar and salt until simmering. Add the vegetables and the first half of the herbs, cook for 15 minutes. Add the noodles and cook at a low boil for 10 more minutes, or until the noodles are soft.

When the noodles are done, the broth is finished. I like to serve the soup in bowls that are filled with the avocado slices and extra chopped herbs. If you can wait, this soup is even better the next day, as the flavors have a chance to blend...

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Someone to meet

I've recently discovered a new blog that consistently thrills me. The Storialist writes poems inspired by fashion photos from The Sartorialist. Both blogs are simple and elegant, and I'm addicted.

The Storialist in particular breaks all preconceptions of poetry as a random act. Rather, it's an affirmation that daily practice and attention does make for excellent poetry. I don't know this author, but I do know his or her eye and heart, and so should you. Here is today's post--especially good.

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Pencil Case: ta da!

In a long line of projects, it's nice to have one completed. Here is the pencil case I finished last week. I love the Japanese fabrics. The textured red one has a great feel, and its companion flowery print worked well for the ties.

This picture is a bit off, but you really get the idea of the fabric textures from this angle.

And here it is, just before I sent it off in the mail to C. in England.    Now I want one for me!

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

On the night table: reading

Here's a peek at some books I've been enjoying lately. As you can see from this small stack, I'm a skipper-arounder-reader (fancy new term coined by me), and I tend to jump from book to book.

Amidst most of my stacks of books, there is almost always a collection of poetry. For me, poetry is supposed to be read quietly, and taken one at a time, and so collections of poetry lend themselves perfectly to the reader who jumps from book to book. You can see that my latest companion is Linda Pastan's Carnival Evening. Her poems are of the everyday and the spectacular, with a voice as clear as water. When I read from this book, I take a few poems at a time, savoring. She is becoming one of my very favorite poets...

1491, by Charles C. Mann, is a study of the Americas before Columbus, and it's excellent. If you are at all interested in history, this is a book that will fill in the huge gap in the timeline of American history. It highlights the technological and cultural advances of Native American societies, and it will leave you with a better appreciation and understanding of a period of history neglected in traditional studies. I found this book after we heard a fantastic interview with the author, Charles Mann, on NPR.

The Daring Book for Girls is another type of book that lends itself to jumping around from book to book. The Daring Book for Girls is a compendium of how-tos for girls, and it's delightfully retro and progressive at the same time. It's charming, from the illustrations to the choice of topics themselves. I am enjoying looking at it before sleep, and I've noticed some of my dreams are taking me back to being a tomboyish girl who still liked to have doll teaparties...Oh, and yes, I did notice that the book is actually written for girls. I'm enjoying it as much as I know Ada will. It's to be one of her Christmas gifts...don't tell!

I love a mystery story, and I enjoy the hard-boiled ones as much as the cozy ones. The Genius is the latest by novelist Jesse Kellerman. I recently finished his debut novel, Sunstroke, and this one is just as good. In both novels, the characters are well-fleshed out and the narrative engaging enough to hold you captive to the story until way past your normal bedtime. I'm looking forward to another one of his--Trouble.

So that's the stack on the night table. You should see the "in the wings" shelf of things I plan to read before year's end! More on those some other post.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Chalkboard stair risers

Yet more evidence of my obsession with chalkboard paint, here are the studio stairs. I think this is a great place for a poem to jump into your thoughts, and reading poetry sets the tone for entering our artspace.  My hope is that, now that Ada is reading, some poems will start to make their way into her memory, at least snippets of them.  

The first stanza of Robert Louis Stevenson's "I Will Make You Brooches" is climbing the stairs now.  This poem is an ode to simple and sublime creativity, and here it is in full for your reading pleasure.  

"I Will Make You Brooches"

I will make you brooches and toys for your delight
of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.
I will make a palace fit for you and me
Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.

I will make my kitchen, and you shall keep your room,
Where white flows the river and bright blows the broom,
And you shall wash your linen and keep your body white
In rainfall at morning and dewfall at night.

And this shall be for music when no one else is near,
The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear!
That only I remember, that only you admire,
Of the broad road that stretches and the roadside fire.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Happy Birthday AFRICOM

In case you didn't know, AFRICOM is turning one year old today. So I made a cake.

Actually, I was commissioned by my husband to make a cake to celebrate the birthday of US AFRICOM, the newest US Military Command. My husband is a poli-sci kind of guy, and he studies this sort of thing for a living. Yesterday after lunch he called me with a request to "make a cake shaped like Africa. Can you do that? For tomorrow morning?"

Uh, sure. No problem. So, faster than you can say Burkina Faso, I just whipped out my Africa-shaped cake pan and baked away...just kidding. This baby took a while--a lot of sketching and planning, then a lot of piecing and gluing with ganache frosting. The cake itself is a delicious buttermilk base inside, and it's cut from a few cakes and reshaped to resemble the continent. I used a bunch of maps to get it right, and while I was pretty ambitious about the whole thing, I had to stop short of doing outlines of 53 countries. I really liked the waterline I added in blue sanding sugar, though, and I especially love the badge I made for the top. Look at the little islands.

AFRICOM is probably not on the minds of most people that look at my blog, and yet, it's worth taking a look to see what our military does.  You can read about it more on the well-designed official AFRICOM website and in this recent article about it.   My favorite summary is here at The New Atlanticist.   

All in all, the AFRICOM cake project took most of yesterday.  When I finally stopped after 11 pm last night, I was so happy with how it came out.   The poli-sci guy and I were up at 5 this morning admiring it and taking photos, so I think he's happy with it, too.  Maybe this is why I get those lovely gifts!!

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.